Bob Woodward on a Nightmare Presidency

If Donald Trump possessed a soul, a trace of conscience or character, he would resign the Presidency. He will not resign the Presidency.

Trump is who he has always been, and the details that we learn with every passing day merely fill in the portrait with sharper focus and more lurid colors. The man who lied about the nature of the novel coronavirus to the American people (but confided in Bob Woodward) is the same man who, as a real-estate huckster, used to say that the best way to hype a new building was to “just give them the old Trump bullshit.” Deception is his brand.

It is hard to identify a constituency that Trump has not betrayed. A self-proclaimed populist, his greatest legislative triumph was a gargantuan tax cut for the wealthy. (“You all just got a lot richer,” he told his cronies at Mar-a-Lago.) A self-proclaimed champion of the military, he reportedly says “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies” and refers to fallen American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.” His lies and expressions of contempt are so routine, so numerous, that we grow inured to their gravity and even forget that only recently he was impeached in the House of Representatives, avoiding conviction thanks only to a conscience-free Republican majority in the Senate. Trump’s lack of stability is so pronounced that he inspires nightmares in his closest aides. As we learn from “Rage,” Woodward’s new book, Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, was so concerned that the President would set off a nuclear confrontation with North Korea that Mattis slept in his clothes in case he had to race to the Pentagon or the White House in the middle of the night. In his interviews with Woodward, Trump seems so hungry for approbation that, like a child, he spills news of a secret weapons system––“We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before.” (This weapons system is presumably different from the hypersonic “super duper” missile that Trump hinted at in May.)

The polls show Joe Biden ahead, but there is no question that the election could go either way. As he proves almost daily, Trump is capable of saying or doing anything to win. And if he doesn’t win, the presumption that he will hand over power without some sort of duplicity is far from assured. And yet the dismissive reaction on Fox News to the revelations in Woodward’s book was telling. On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were all smug laughter as they tried to describe the excerpts from Woodward’s book as so much irrelevance and hokum and to redirect attention to all the many devilish ways that Biden was describing the country as “evil” and “racist.” And, by the way, Ingraham said, there’s another book that you really ought to read! “Obsession: Inside the Washington Establishment’s Never-Ending War on Trump,” by Byron York, a Fox contributor and correspondent for the Washington Examiner.

Trump’s Presidency has been appalling––but not unpredictably so. That he would bring misery and division to this country should have been obvious from the start. Flagrantly corrupt and instinctually autocratic, he immediately set about threatening democratic values and the rule of law, while encouraging autocrats abroad and white nationalists at home. He has aroused hatred for the free press and slimed the patriotism of everyone from John McCain to John Lewis. It is a painful thing to say, but the evidence assaults us daily: Trump is a miserable human being. Ask his sister, a retired federal judge; in a taped conversation with the President’s niece, she refers to him as “cruel.” It is the rare adviser or satrap who leaves the White House and does not hasten to write a memoir or speak to the press with the intention of sounding a common alarm, that Trump poses a threat to national security even more profound than the news-weary public can imagine. Woodward reports that the former director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, came to believe, more and more, that the Russians had something on Trump. “How else to explain the President’s behavior?” Woodward writes. “Coats could see no other explanation.”

“So you just had to deal with it,” Woodward quotes Mattis as saying, about the situation inside Trump’s White House. “It was, how do you govern this country and try to keep this experiment alive for one more year?” Mattis says he resigned only when Trump went “beyond stupid to felony stupid” and made an abrupt decision to withdraw troops fighting isis.

Trump’s reaction to the book has been Trumpian. He gave Woodward eighteen interviews, often calling Woodward at home at night just to deepen the hole he began to dig at more formal sessions in the Oval Office. Woodward taped the conversations with the President’s knowledge. But, as a way to cover all bases, Trump tweeted last month, “The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been.” And, of course, he has now tried to pick at the critical thread that the reporter should have published his remarks about the dangers of covid-19 earlier. “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”

The executive in charge of saving lives was, and is, Donald Trump, not Bob Woodward. And the President’s delays and denials insured that the American response, compared with that of other nations, would be tragic. William Haseltine, the chairman and president of access Health International and a world-renowned biologist, told CNN, “How many people could have been saved out of the hundred and ninety thousand who have died? My guess is a hundred and eighty thousand of those. We have killed a hundred and eighty thousand of our fellow-Americans because we have not been honest with the truth.”

With just two months remaining before the election, it is obvious that Trump, seemingly unable to expand his base and, according to a recent report in the Times, running short on money and the ability to blanket the battleground states with ads, will stick with the ugliest tactics available to him. And, in doing so, he is making the calculation that a decisive segment of the electorate will be attracted to his appeals to racism and fear.

Trump is not unique in such tactical thinking. In November, 1971, Richard Nixon was concerned about two things: his reëlection campaign and, at least fleetingly, the publication of Philip Roth’s “Our Gang,” a withering satire of the Nixon Administration. It hardly mattered to Nixon that the people most likely to read “Our Gang” were probably not in the undecided camp. In a White House meeting, Nixon asked his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, about the plot of Roth’s book. After Haldeman patiently ran through the Swiftian plot mechanics for the President, Nixon got to the point:

nixon: Roth is, of course, a Jew.

haldeman: Oh, yes.

The two men ponder this. Then they edge up to an interesting conclusion.

nixon: I think the anti-Semitic thing can be, I hate to say it, but it can be very helpful to us.

haldeman: There are a lot more anti-Semites than there are Jews, and the anti-Semites are with us generally and the Jews sure aren’t.

As it happened, Nixon did not need to resort to Jew-baiting or race-baiting on the campaign trail. He was always far ahead in the polls against George McGovern and ended up winning everywhere but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Early in his term, there were moments when Trump would seemingly abandon his customary venom and wildness and do something ordinary, such as read a bland speech from a prepared text. The spectacle would be so striking that we’d hear commentators say such things as, “This is the night that Donald Trump became President of the United States.” Meaning that there was half a chance that he would now behave somewhere within the bounds of sanity and decency. There was never any chance of that happening. Trump is who he has always been. The rest is details. And he is not going anywhere until he’s compelled to do so.

Jim Mattis, “Call Sign Chaos” (with David Brooks)

Former Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis discusses his book, “Call Sign Chaos”, with David Brooks of the New York Times.

Call Sign Chaos is the account of Jim Mattis’s storied career, from wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East. Along the way, Mattis recounts his foundational experiences as a leader, extracting the lessons he has learned about the nature of warfighting and peacemaking, the importance of allies, and the strategic dilemmas—and short-sighted thinking—now facing our nation. He makes it clear why America must return to a strategic footing so as not to continue winning battles but fighting inconclusive wars.

Mattis divides his book into three parts: Direct Leadership, Executive Leadership, and Strategic Leadership. In the first part, Mattis recalls his early experiences leading Marines into battle, when he knew his troops as well as his own brothers. In the second part, he explores what it means to command thousands of troops and how to adapt your leadership style to ensure your intent is understood by your most junior troops so that they can own their mission. In the third part, Mattis describes the challenges and techniques of leadership at the strategic level, where military leaders reconcile war’s grim realities with political leaders’ human aspirations, where complexity reigns and the consequences of imprudence are severe, even catastrophic.

Call Sign Chaos is a memoir of a life of warfighting and lifelong learning, following along as Mattis rises from Marine recruit to four-star general. It is a journey about learning to lead and a story about how he, through constant study and action, developed a unique leadership philosophy, one relevant to us all.

Jim Mattis is a Pacific Northwest native who served more than four decades as a Marine infantry officer. Following two years as the Secretary of Defense, he returned to the Northwest and is now the Davies Family Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Bing West has written ten books about combat. He served as a Marine grunt in Vietnam and later as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He has been on hundreds of patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many operations with General Mattis. He is a member of the Military History Working Group at the Hoover Institution. He lives with his wife, Betsy, in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Newport, Rhode Island.

Former defense secretary Jim Mattis rejoins General Dynamics board

Mattis served on the board from 2013 to 2017 before joining the Trump administration.

Former defense secretary Jim Mattis has been elected to the board of General Dynamics, the company announced after a vote on Wednesday, allowing him to reclaim a powerful position at the top of America’s defense industry.

The announcement comes at a time when General Dynamics ― one of the last military-industrial conglomerates remaining from the industry’s Reagan-era heyday ― is trying to remake itself for the information age. Last year, the company sealed a deal to buy CSRA, a massive Beltway IT contractor, for almost $10 billion. It is the fourth-largest corporate recipient of U.S. government contract dollars.

“Jim is a thoughtful, deliberate and principled leader with a proven track record of selfless service to our nation,” chief executive Phebe Novakovic said in a statement. “We are honored to have him on our board.”

Mattis’s compensation and benefits package is to be detailed in a later financial disclosure form.

Mattis is the latest influential military official to join a major defense contractor, part of the “revolving door” between business and government that has long concerned government ethics experts.

A report released late last year by the Project on Government Oversight found that defense contractors had hired at least 50 high-level government officials since Trump became president, among more than 600 such instances in the past decade.

Mattis began his first stint on the board of General Dynamics in 2013 after more than 40 years with the U.S. Marine Corps. From 2010 to 2013, he led U.S. Central Command, which spearheads the military’s operations in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

He never married, and is often described as a “warrior monk” for his bookish devotion to military strategy and history. He adopted the call sign “chaos,” which stands for “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution,” he told an audience at the National Harbor in 2017.

Mattis led the Defense Department during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Trump frequently expressed admiration for him in public, referring to him as one of “my generals,” and calling him by his other nickname, “Mad Dog” Mattis.

Behind the scenes, Mattis often seemed to check the president’s instincts. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s 2018 book “Fear: Trump in the White House” Mattis once told an associate that “we’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured,” after Trump had told the defense secretary by phone to kill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

As defense secretary, he led numerous initiatives designed to make the Defense Department more efficient and business-friendly, an approach that was helpful to defense contractors such as his former employer.

When Mattis became defense secretary in early 2017, he resigned from numerous positions in the private sector — including one at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank — and a handful of charities. When he stepped down from General Dynamics’s board, he promised to divest all stock associated with his seat. He also forfeited stock holdings and options that had not yet vested at the time he rejoined the government, which must have added up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on financial disclosure forms.

Mattis also promised not to participate personally or substantially in any matter concerning the now-disgraced Silicon Valley blood testing start-up Theranos, in which he was an investor. According to his ethics pledge at the time, Mattis was not required to divest of his Theranos stock. The company began plans to dissolve in September.

Board members at General Dynamics are given lucrative stock holdings and options, and are often closely involved in major business decisions. Board member responsibilities at General Dynamics include “reviewing, approving and monitoring the company’s business strategies, annual operating plan and significant corporate actions,” according to the company’s corporate governance guidelines. Board members also have responsibility for “advising and counseling management” and ensuring that appropriate ethics policies are in place with respect to the company’s relationship with customers.

Currently, six of General Dynamics’s 12 board members are former high-ranking government officials.

  • Rudy deLeon served as deputy secretary of defense from 2000 to 2001;
  • retired Navy Adm. Cecil Haney led the U.S. Strategic Command from 2013 to 2016;
  • retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles led the Air Force Material Command from 2000 to 2003;
  • retired British Army Gen. Peter Wall was chief of the general staff for the British Army from 2010 to 2014; and
  • chairman and chief executive Novakovic has worked for the CIA, the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget.

General Dynamics is not the only company packing its board with former military and government officials. Former deputy undersecretary of defense Bob Work joined Raytheon’s board in 2017, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, joined Boeing’s board this year.

Big tech companies have benefited from the revolving door as well; Amazon recently hired Victor Gavin, the former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, to assist with its cloud computing business. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Shields and Brooks on Trump-Pelosi feud, 2020 Democrats

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including NewsHour interviews with 2020 presidential candidates Eric Swalwell and Kirsten Gillibrand, the escalating feud between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and whether ongoing congressional investigations are leading to impeachment.

Donald Trump’s Phony America

There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.

.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.

She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.

This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.

She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.

Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”

The Ghost of Trump Chaos Future

Sorry, investors, but there is no sanity clause.

Two years ago, after the shock of Donald Trump’s election, financial markets briefly freaked out, then quickly recovered. In effect, they decided that while Trump was manifestly unqualified for the job, temperamentally and intellectually, it wouldn’t matter. He might talk the populist talk, but he’d walk the plutocratic walk. He might be erratic and uninformed, but wiser heads would keep him from doing anything too stupid.

In other words, investors convinced themselves that they had a deal: Trump might sound off, but he wouldn’t really get to make policy. And, hey, taxes on corporations and the wealthy would go down.

But now, just in time for Christmas, people are realizing that there was no such deal — or at any rate, that there wasn’t a sanity clause. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) Put an unstable, ignorant, belligerent man in the Oval Office, and he will eventually do crazy things.

To be clear, voters have been aware for some time that government by a bad man is bad government. That’s why Democrats won a historically spectacular majority of the popular vote in the midterms. Even the wealthy, who have been the prime beneficiaries of Trump policies, are unhappy: A CNBC survey finds that millionaires, even Republican millionaires, have turned sharply against the tweeter in chief.

.. The reality that presidential unfitness matters for investors seems to have started setting in only about three weeks (and around 4,000 points on the Dow) ago.

  • First came the realization that Trump’s much-hyped deal with China existed only in his imagination. Then came
  • his televised meltdown in a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,
  • his abrupt pullout from Syria,
  • his firing of Jim Mattis and
  • his shutdown of the government because Congress won’t cater to his edifice complex and build a pointless wall. And now there’s
  • buzz that he wants to fire Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Oh, and along the way we learned that Trump has been engaging in raw obstruction of justice, pressuring his acting attorney general (who is himself a piece of work) over the Mueller investigation as the tally of convictions, confessions and forced resignations mounts.

.. And even trade war might not do that much harm, as long as it’s focused mainly on China, which is only one piece of U.S. trade. The really big economic risk was that Trump might break up Nafta, the North American trade agreement: U.S. manufacturing is so deeply integrated with production in Canada and Mexico that this would have been highly disruptive. But he settled for changing the agreement’s name while leaving its structure basically intact, and the remaining risks don’t seem that large.

.. Now imagine how this administration team might cope with a real economic setback, whatever its source. Would Trump look for solutions or refuse to accept responsibility and focus mainly on blaming other people? Would his Treasury secretary and chief economic advisers coolly analyze the problem and formulate a course of action, or would they respond with a combination of sycophancy to the boss and denials that anything was wrong? What do you think?

Shields and Gerson on Mattis’ resignation, congressional stalemate

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s political news, including the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the congressional scramble to fund the government and avoid a partial shutdown.

 

Summary

Jim Mattis’s resignation resulted in panic and is a sign that we are reaching the beginning of the end.

Trump had an agreement for temporary funding but felt pressured by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh because the threat of the Mueller Report forces Trump to solidify his support on the right.